Editor's note:

In my expe­ri­ence,” writes Bren­nan Man­ning, self-hatred is the dom­i­nant malaise crip­pling Chris­tians and sti­fling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”

In this excerpt from Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline—if you have the book, the entire chap­ter on sub­mis­sion is worth a re-read — Richard Fos­ter explains why Jesus’ call to self-denial has noth­ing to do with self-hatred. 

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline

The touch­stone for the bib­li­cal under­stand­ing of sub­mis­sion is Jesus’ aston­ish­ing state­ment, If any man would come after me, let him deny him­self and take up his cross and fol­low me” (Mark 8: 34). Almost instinc­tive­ly we draw back from these words. We are much more com­fort­able with words like self-ful­fill­ment” and self-actu­al­iza­tion” than we are with the thought of self-denial.” (In real­i­ty, Jesus’ teach­ing on self-denial is the only thing that will bring gen­uine self-ful­fill­ment and self-actu­al­iza­tion.) Self-denial con­jures up in our minds all sorts of images of grov­el­ing and self-hatred. We imag­ine that it most cer­tain­ly means the rejec­tion of our indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and will prob­a­bly lead to var­i­ous forms of self-mortification. 

On the con­trary, Jesus calls us to self-denial with­out self-hatred. Self-denial is sim­ply a way of com­ing to under­stand that we do not have to have our own way. Our hap­pi­ness is not depen­dent upon get­ting what we want. 

Self-denial does not mean the loss of our iden­ti­ty as some sup­pose. With­out our iden­ti­ty we could not even be sub­ject to each oth­er. Did Jesus lose his iden­ti­ty when he set his face toward Gol­go­tha? Did Peter lose his iden­ti­ty when he respond­ed to Jesus’ cross-bear­ing com­mand, Fol­low me” (John 21: 19)? Did Paul lose his iden­ti­ty when he com­mit­ted him­self to the One who had said, I will show him how much he must suf­fer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9: 16)? Of course not. We know that the oppo­site was true. They found their iden­ti­ty in the act of self-denial. 

Self-denial is not the same thing as self-con­tempt. Self-con­tempt claims that we have no worth, and even if we do have worth, we should reject it. Self-denial declares that we are of infi­nite worth and shows us how to real­ize it. Self-con­tempt denies the good­ness of the cre­ation; self-denial affirms that it is indeed good. Jesus made the abil­i­ty to love our­selves the pre­req­ui­site for our reach­ing out to oth­ers (Matt. 22:39). Self-love and self-denial are not in con­flict. More than once Jesus made it quite clear that self-denial is the only sure way to love our­selves. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who los­es his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

Again, we must under­score that self-denial means the free­dom to give way to oth­ers. It means to hold oth­ers’ inter­ests above our inter­ests. In this way self-denial releas­es us from self-pity. When we live out­side of self-denial, we demand that things go our way. When they do not, we revert to self-pity — “ Poor me!” Out­ward­ly we may sub­mit but we do so in a spir­it of mar­tyr­dom. This spir­it of self-pity, of mar­tyr­dom, is a sure sign that the Dis­ci­pline of sub­mis­sion has gone to seed. This is why self-denial is the foun­da­tion for sub­mis­sion; it saves us from self-indulgence.

Excerpt from Fos­ter, Richard J. Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline: The Path To Spir­i­tu­al Growth (pp. 113 – 114). Harper­Collins. Kin­dle Edition.

Originally published December 1977

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